Old Jefferson: 1228 Jefferson Hwy.
Cuba has been on our minds lately, as we look forward to the opening of the island and its unique, distinctive cuisine. Cuban restaurants long have cooked their food in the New Orleans area. But not even the good Cuban places lasted long. The exception that proves the rule is Liborio, which opened in the 1960s and is still here.
Café Florida was among the most memorable of local Cuban cafes. A quaint cafe in the neighborhood of Ochsner Hospital, it served a big menu of convincing Cuban food. A Cuban friend explained this: Ochsner historically has attracted many patients from Latin America. I do recall seeing hospital staffers speaking Spanish there.
The building was colorful and walled with adobe, which put forth a convincing promise of authenticity. (The Chinese restaurant in that location now has kept the look intact.) The front room was a sort of lunch counter. Past that was a more formal dining room.
The menu began with the entire range of Cuban-style sandwiches–rich, filled with roast pork and ham, sharpened with mustard and pickles, flattened and toasted at the same time in a sandwich press. Clearly a cousin of the poor boy sandwich, the Cuban sandwiches were filling meals unto themselves, and were well enough made to deserve their popularity.
The menu went in to include plate specials. Appetizers: a big, vaguely sweet Cuban tamale. Fried chorizo, spicy and aromatic. A terrific black bean soup, of course–Cubans make the best black beans.
Entrees: roast chicken with rice and black beans. Ropa vieja (“old clothes”) was shredded beef a sauce somewhere between a broth and a gravy. Cuban steak (with or without peppers or onions). Picadillo (sort of like the inside of taco without the lettuce, but much better). Sauteed pork with congri and yuca. Carnitas, the steak-like cubes of crusty roasted pork.
Things got complex in the evening hours. I remember a variety of big rice-based dishes, ranging from casseroles with squid or chicken. Paella, of course. The Cuban steak stuffed with shrimp is better than I would have guessed.
All of this is eminently satisfying, particularly given the prices. At lunch, it was difficult to spend a fiver.)
The management knew it would have many Cuban customers and was ready with a wide range of Latin American beers, juices, and soft drinks. They make batidos–shakes involving not only vanilla and chocolate but also guanabana, tamarind, and mango. Thew worked both as refreshers or desserts.
The owners were nice folks whose names I can’t recall. (Do you know? Write firstname.lastname@example.org.) They were are very pleased to have non-Cubans try their tasty food.
But one day, just like almost all of the Cuban restaurants before or since, it disappeared. And we waited for its like to come again. Quite a few did, but never again in that spot.